Can you Go Off Roading With AWD?

All wheel drive vehicles are versatile and capable, and they make the perfect vehicle for most situations. However, these vehicles do have their limitations. AWD vehicles are ideal for many situations, but what if tackling a serious off-roading trail appeals to you? Can you use an AWD vehicle to conquer it?

You cannot go off-roading with AWD. 4×4 trails and true off-roading tracks are meant for four-wheel drive vehicles only. However, all-wheel drive can still be fun for light trails and tracks and tackling minimally wet, muddy, sandy, or icy trails. AWD is ideal for very light off-roading, nothing too serious.

Red Mazda CX-5 All-Wheel Drive Badge

This type of vehicle has some limitations, but it is able to traverse some rugged terrain without much trouble. The limits of AWD vehicles become clear when attempting to tackle 4×4 trails, so let’s explore the limits of this type of vehicle and find out if they can be used for off-roading.

Can You Go Off Roading With All Wheel Drive?

All wheel drive makes a vehicle far more capable than two-wheel drive vehicles on anything that isn’t smooth tarmac. These vehicles excel when the tar ends, and they are some of the most versatile vehicles out there. This leads many SUV owners to wonder if you can take an AWD off-roading?

AWD allows a vehicle to handle dirt roads, moderate snow, hard sand, gravel, shallow mud, shallow water, and slippery surfaces well because power from the engine is sent to all four wheels at once.

However, there is a significant difference between all-wheel drive vehicles and true off-roading 4×4 vehicles. AWD vehicles are not able to handle the extreme terrain that 4x4s traverse without much trouble due to many factors.

Off-roading vehicles are higher off the ground; they have more powerful motors that generate more torque, they have bigger and more capable wheels and tires, and the true four-wheel drive system these vehicles are equipped with sends the engine power to whichever wheel needs it, and allows the vehicle to go where no other vehicle can.

Unfortunately, this description does not match an all wheel drive vehicle. AWD vehicles are lower to the ground, smaller, have smaller wheels and tires, have less powerful engines, and are not meant for tackling extremely rugged terrain.

This means that AWD does equate to true off-roading. Only well-equipped 4×4 vehicles are able to handle true off-roading. However, there are some circumstances that the AWD vehicle is ideal for.

You cannot take an AWD drive vehicle o a serious off-roading trail, but light off-roading, dirt roads, snow, and gravel are ideal terrain for AWD vehicles. 

Modern AWD systems make these vehicles well equipped for getting through shallow ditches and over light humps, even on road surfaces that are slippery, muddy, wet, or covered in snow. These vehicles can reach places that two wheel drive vehicles cannot and are ideal for anyone who travels this type of terrain frequently.

While serious off-roading is not possible with AWD, it will get you into more places than regular vehicles, and they are much safer to use over any terrain than is not tarmac when compared to two wheel drive cars. 

How Good Is AWD For Off Roading?

The truth is, AWD vehicles are not very capable off-roaders. These vehicles simply were not designed not built for the type of terrain that most people consider to be true off-roading trails or environments. 

All wheel drive vehicles are better than two wheel drive vehicles when the tarmac ends, but there is nothing better for off-roading than a real 4×4.

AWD is not good for off-roading in the true sense, but these vehicles can be used for light trails and tracks without anything too craggy, deep, or steep. AWD will get you through hard sand or shallow sand, but it will not handle deep or loose sand very well at all.

Very deep snow or particularly deep and wet mud will also defeat AWD, but light snow, shallow mud, or frozen ground is no match for all wheel drive. 

Steep terrain and deep ditches or crevasses are not possible to conquer with AWD either, but dirt roads, small rocks and stones, farm and mountain tracks, and hunting trails are all in the wheelhouse of AWD abilities. 

At the end of it, anything that requires a true off-roader is too much for an AWD drive vehicle, but anything that could still be considered a track, road, or light trail is ideal for AWD vehicles.

Where To Go Off Roading With AWD

If you own an AWD vehicle and the off-road bug has bitten you, there are some places that you can go to satisfy your off-roading urges. Not every off-road track or course requires a serious 4×4 to traverse, and some trails are designed to be used by crossovers, all wheel drives, and beginner off-roaders.

Take the time to do some research, and you are sure to find a light off-roading track or trail near you, so long as you do not live right in the middle of a city.

Light trails, dirt tracks, off-road training grounds, and AWD proving courses are available to anyone who owns an AWD vehicle. These facilities are spread out almost everywhere where open land exists, and many of the trails suitable for AWD are free to use.

Always be sure that you take the time to learn the true capabilities f your vehicle and find a trail or facility that is suitable for what you have. Be careful not to push your AWD too far or too hard, as it is easy to think your vehicle is capable of something that it should not be doing.

Over-estimating your vehicles’ AWD capabilities is an easy way to get stuck or to cause damage to yourself or your vehicle, so take the time to prepare properly, and every AWD outdoor adventure will be great!


WD vehicles are excellent for traversing rugged dirt roads, snow, mud, grass, slippery surfaces, ice, shallow water, and even light off-road trails, but they are no match for a true off-roading track that is meant only for 4×4 vehicles.

However, you can still have plenty of off-road fun with AWD if you find the right locations and are careful not to push your vehicle beyond its capabilities. Take the time to research the trails in your area, understand the capabilities of your vehicle, be safe, and have fun in the dirt!

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.